In 2005, a study of the Atlanta Women’s Agenda was presented to the mayor to highlight the underground exploitation of many girls who were hidden behind closed doors in escort services, massage parlors, dance clubs, as well as on the Internet. The report, (Hidden in Plain View) focused on the commercial sexual exploitation of girls as young as 10.
During that time, the report revealed that:
– Nearly 300 young girls were sexually exploited in Georgia every month
– An average of 67 girls engaged in street prostitution every month on several known corridors
– An average of 137 girls appeared in Craigslist ads every month
– An average of 63 girls were exploited through escort services every month
– An average of 28 girls were exploited monthly with johns at major hotels
– As many as 129 girls were prostituted on a typical weekend night
– Internet ads on Craigslist sold sex with “young girls,” receiving inquiries from johns at 132% to the 175% the rate of ads that do not mention young age
The following year, Mayor Shirley Franklin launched the “Dear John” public education program to bring attention to the problem of child prostitution in the city of Atlanta. The “Dear John” campaign partners included the Juvenile Justice Fund and a wide-range of other human service, law enforcement and judicial supporters.
The powerful and hard-hitting campaign encouraged audiences to eliminate the exploitation of young children who were victims of poverty and disconnected from their families. The city and the Atlanta Women’s Agenda joined a consortium of law enforcement and community outreach leaders started the “Dear John” campaign. Because Craigslist and similar free ads sites accounted for 85% of the sexual encounters men arrange in Atlanta, with children, Mayor Franklin formally called for Craigslist to revise its warning messages against erotic services and personal ads, and to remove postings that offer sexual services for sale, and ads of a similar nature.
The Dear John education campaign also brought heightened media attention to the issue as well. In January 2007, a CNN report on human trafficking noted that drug dealers had started pimping young girls because, as a counselor said, “you can only sell a dime bag once; you can sell a 10-year-old girl over and over again.”
Atlanta is the home of the world’s busiest passenger airport and that proved to be an asset to pimps and others who imported children from around the world for commercial sexual exploitation.
“Atlanta is one of the leading cities in the trafficking of women and children,” says Stephanie Davis, executive director of Georgia Women for Change. “I think the last count was that we were 13th in the world – in the world! We’re one of the leading cities in human trafficking for the same reasons why we’re one of the leading business cities – good transportation system, mobile population, lots of money.”
There were 1,229 human trafficking incidents in the United States from January 2007 to September 2008, says the U.S. Department of Justice. Of these, 83 percent were sex trafficking cases.
In 2011, after a four-year legislative battle, Georgia passed one of the toughest laws in the country. The legislation implemented tougher penalties for criminals and more treatment options for victims. The legislation prevents prosecution for people charged with sex crimes if the person was a victim of trafficking during the time. It also tacks on tough new criminal penalties for human traffickers. For traffickers, pimps and johns, the law specifies a 25-year minimum sentence for people convicted of trafficking minors under 18. It imposes a 5-year minimum sentence on offenders convicted of paying for sex with children 16 or older. Offenders caught seeking sex with children below the age of 16 are subject to a sentence of 10 years.
The campaign and the work started in Atlanta has proven to be a model for cities like Miami and Oakland that are seeking to protect and educate the public about the exploitation, abuse and human trafficking of America’s children.